Cocoa and High Blood Pressure

People have to struggle a lot to keep their blood pressure under control. The situation becomes worse for hypertensive patient as they have to depend on marketed preparation like antihypertensive medicine or have to adjust their diet to regulate their BP. Practice of Healthy diet is although a good option which should be adopted by all, but medicine may give birth to some other complication especially for old people. Recently, researcher have proved that eating chocolates or by drinking coffee or green tea also contributes in lowering down blood pressure. So chocolate lovers might be happy after reading this but also it’s equally important to have moderate intake of chocolates. The decline in blood pressure is due to presence of Flavanols in Cocoa seeds from which chocolate are produced.

The term “cacao” and “cocoa” were mistakenly used interchangeably since long time which means that it signifies same thing. But now two terms have different meaning. Cocoa is generally used for processed and sweetened cacao and term cacao is used to describe seeds, tree and pods. The cacao tree is a tropical tree; it is native to Mexico and South America which are the leading suppliers of cacao beans or seeds.

Benefits of Cocoa seeds

Flavonoids, a type of polyphenol, can be obtained from other food sources like citrus fruits, vegetables, green tea, and red wine but chocolate has high flavanol content as compared to others. 31⁄2 ounce of dark chocolate has more polyphenol than 31⁄2 ounce of either a fruit or vegetable serving.   This explains the strong relationship between cocoa and high blood pressure reduction, as Small Square of dark chocolate produces similar effect like any flavonoid content product.

According to one article published in Archives of Internal Medicine, cocoa reduces systolic BP by 4.3mmHg and diastolic BP by 2.8 mmHg, but no significant changes were observed when effects of tea were examined. Reduction 20%, coronary heart problems by 10% and mortality rate by 8%. Thus use of cocoa and high blood pressure reduction level is similar to the effects with those of anti-hypertensive drugs. Well the credit truly goes to presence of Flavanol.

Flavanol acts as a strong antioxidant agent, therefore effective in treatment of high blood pressure, heart diseases, plaque, cancer and strokes. The particular type of flavanol found in cacao is called Epicatechin.  Flavanols repairs the damage in the inner lining of blood vessels caused by formation of plaque, which make blood vessels hard and narrow and restricts blood flow that finally contributes to rise in blood pressure. The repairing process of Flavanols is due to release of angiogenic cells, also called as endothelial progenitor cells that even coordinate functioning and maintenance of endothelium.                                               

Cocoa seeds and high blood pressure

Flavanol also mediates release of Nitric oxide which relaxes constricted blood vessels. Daily intake of Cocoa drink containing 25mg of epicatechin can help significantly in lowering blood pressure.

Importance of dark chocolate

Cocoa is obtained from cocoa beans. Cocoa beans consist of 54% fat, 31% carbohydrates, 11% proteins, 3% polyphenols and 1% minerals. To create chocolate or cocoa powder most of the fat is removed. The flavanol adds strong flavour to chocolates which may be lost along with health benefits when cocoa beans are alkalised or fermented. More the processing steps, lesser will be amount of Flavanols.

Pure dark unsweetened chocolates have highest amount of cocoa therefore more well for health but it tastes bitter. Manufacture adds other additives like sugar, honey to decrease bitter taste of cocoa along with nutritional benefit of cocoa. Sugar adds extra calories which lead to weight gain that may outweighs the health benefits of cocoa itself as it increases chances of cardiovascular diseases or diabetes. Therefore raw and unprocessed cocoa or cocoa powder gives best benefits, so you should avoid processed cocoa products, but this doesn’t mean that you cannot eat chocolates. Chocolate like dark chocolates having 70% cocoa is also considered to be heart healthy.

Chocolates are categorised into different groups based on the content of cocoa solids. As mentioned above unsweetened chocolates have 100% cocoa solids. Bitter sweet chocolate means that it consist of 35-99% of cocoa solid; containing at least 35% of cocoa solid and less than 12% of milk chocolate. Milk chocolate has 15-35 of cocoa solid; having at least 15% unsweetened chocolate and 15% milk chocolate. Milk chocolates has 10% unsweetened chocolate, 12% milk chocolate and 3.3% of fat. So always check label before eating chocolates. Do not drink milk while eating chocolate as milk interfere with body ability to absorb antioxidant present in diet. If you have consumed more than 450 mg of calories per day, balance your rest of diet by eating fruits with less sugar content. So plan your diet accordingly or you can consult doctor regarding chocolate intake.                                   

Note, not all types of chocolates have same effect on blood pressure. Dark chocolate consist of 46-61mg of catechin per 100g of chocolate bar whereas white chocolate consist of 15-16mg of catechin. Compared to white chocolate or milk chocolate, dark chocolates showed significant drop in blood pressure (systolic BP by 11.9 points and diastolic BP by 8.9 points) in one study involving 20 hypertensive patients in which some of them were given 100mg of dark chocolates that consists 80 mg of Flavanols and others with 90 mg of white chocolates having no flavanol.

Usage of Cocoa products

You have studied how cocoa and high blood pressure are related but it’s not necessary to eat only chocolate as cocoa can also be added into your routine diet in many other ways, like by adding a teaspoonful of dark cocoa in to our morning coffee or by drinking hot cocoa drink every morning which consists of low or non-fat milk and some sugar.

Instead of adding sugar you can also add some amount of concentric flavour of strawberry, raspberry or grape juice. A chilling summer drink could also be prepared with cocoa in it by mixing cocoa powder, banana, tablespoon of honey and large glass of water.

Also you can add some amount of cocoa and bake cookies, muffins, cakes and brownies. Be careful while purchasing cocoa powder.

Select only those brands that have minimum amount of sugar and hydrogenated fat like Droste cocoa powder of Holland and Green and Black’s cocoa powder. Droste powder consists of 15mg of pure cocoa powder and less than 5 mg of sugar.